Jacket 15 — December 2001   |   # 15  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |


John Tranter

Three Poems About Kenneth Koch


1

He never writes poems about writing poems,
this dog-eared wunderkind who’s tapped
the unconscious of the race. His main characteristics:
in the fall he develops a fatal liking for stiff gin
martinis. He’s not a disguised Mayor Ed Koch —
the hair’s different — and don’t let anybody tell you
he is. He kisses wives under the mistletoe,
given half a chance, and he’s a sink of indiscretion,
so look out, gossip-wise. A knot of contradictions, he is
a simpering tough guy, and a brutal sook — mercy me,
here he comes! Violently athirst!


2

There’s a book of Tasmanian verse titled Under Aldebaran,
but it isn’t Kenneth’s, thank goodness. On the street
where he lives he’ll grin down from his window at you,
and if he borrows a domestic pet he’ll give it back
pronto. Wait a minute — I think
I said ‘gin martinis’ when I meant ‘beer
and pretzels.’ Unhh ... songs about old
dogs and whisky drunkards make him cry all day —
the neighbours chuckle indulgently, and they never mind.
A young woman student cries ‘Oh, Kenneth!
Will you stop that?’ and slaps him. He does try, but
he has blood in his veins, he’s not dead
in the pants like some old professor with only one thing —
nuclear physics, say — on his mind. He’s travelled the world
until he’s weary, and he’s been to a thousand World Series
Games. He thinks constantly on the greatness
of Edna St Vincent Millay. He’s quietly proud
of his conversational Greek, and one time
he gobbled a whole bag of bagels in Dinky’s Delicatessen.


3

Pondering the Orientations of Kenneth, we are
wondering if Chinese restaurants are not
unknown to this gentleman. He steps
jauntily to the mirror, his reflected youthfulness
dazzling the other diners and the waitresses too.
Now he writes a poem, and garnishes it with a colon!
He leaves for Mexico, and, once there, decides to vanish —
a pop, a flash, and a small, perfectly-formed miasma
has entirely replaced him.
Grieving this deprivation, the skies are overcast.
‘Señor Coke’s poems, ever shall we recite them!’
sob the local chaperones. From, say, sere Tamazunchale —
no, from the shopping malls of steamy Miami
to the brothels of bourbon-dark Jacksonville
a draught of Koch is known as a certain cure
for flabby verse — certain, though bitter. He argues with Jews
about God, and vice versa, dispersing and hiding
his subtle talent in the libraries of Philadelphia
until the police under their blathering sirens become depressed
at the thought of the loss of the illuminations of Kenneth.



“Three Poems About Kenneth Koch” uses the end-words (the last word of each line) of “3 Poems About Kenneth Koch”, by Frank O’Hara.

Thanks to the editors of Hobo and to Michael Rothenberg, editor of Poetic Voices (on the Internet), where this poem first appeared.


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